I’ve broken up with girls for lots of reasons in the past (or given them the Spanish Archer as we used to say), there have even been a few that have broken up with me — the nerve! Most of my relationships have ended with more of a whimper than a bang, slowly fizzling out when the initial spark faded so I don’t have too many dramatic stories to tell, but there was one girl who I caught on the phone having a secret, intimate chat with another bloke in the middle of the night in my own kitchen while she was spending the night at my place. That’s the only time in my life I’ve ever been involved in a get-the-fuck-out! shouting match with a girl and I hope you agree it was perfectly reasonable of me in that situation.
But what about the unreasonable causes? For a while I went out with a girl who told me she voted Conservative (this was when Maggie Thatcher was Prime Minister) and an American who said she thought Ronald Reagan was a great President. Though I didn’t, I hasten add, dump either of these girls on the spot, the thought did cross my mind that this might be grounds for terminating the relationship. Dodgy politics are one thing, but what if — horror of horrors — she had really bad taste in music?
I’ve been lucky in that regard, my long-term relationships (all three of them including the missus) have been with girls who shared roughly the same (impeccable) taste as me, but at college I briefly went out with a girl who liked… Chris De Burgh. This devastating information was given to me by a friend of hers before our first date who passed it on as if she was telling me the girl was a Neo-Nazi or liked to drown kittens — “she’s a nice girl, but…” Sadly she turned out to be a little dull and personality-free so I only went out with her three times, but I wonder if my opinion of her was tarnished by what I knew. Did knowing that she liked Chris De Burgh make her boring to me or did only boring people like Chris De Burgh in the first place? It’s a chicken-and-egg situation! I think I even avoided the “what kind of music do you like?” conversation with her because I’d have to fight the urge to shout HE’S SHIT!!! which would ruin any chance of a second date or getting her into bed (I didn’t), but I suppose if the relationship had lasted I would have had to cross that bridge at some point. I can’t even remember her name now but she has forever gone down in my memory as “the Chris De Burgh fan” I went out with.
Is there any group or singer so bad that they would be grounds for dumping a girl? I think the only answer to that question is “depends how good-looking she is.”
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the new film by acclaimed documentary-maker Errol Morris was about the Joyce McKinney story which dominated the British press in 1977 — when they weren’t frothing at the mouth over the Sex Pistols, that is. It’s a doozy of a story too, involving a former beauty queen who became obsessed with a Mormon missionary, followed him to England where she kidnapped him and handcuffed him to a bed (with mink-lined cuffs) in a Dorset cottage for three days while she forced him to have sex with her (according to him anyway, McKinney always claimed it was consensual). He eventually escaped, she was arrested but skipped bail, fled the country, and was found in Atlanta a week later hiding out disguised as a nun.
It really doesn’t get much more perfectly tabloid than that so it’s no wonder Fleet Street had a collective orgasm over it, especially when at the centre of the story was a colourful, curvy blond given to statements like “I loved him so much that I would have skiied naked down Mount Everest with a carnation up my nose if he had asked me to.”
But perhaps the most surprising thing about McKinney is how completely forgotten she is (or was, before this movie.) Despite the lurid, you-couldn’t-make-it-up nature of her story she vanished and tumbled down the memory hole pretty soon after she left England (though she continued with her highly eccentric behaviour.), even people who were around in England in 1977 might have a hard time remembering what she was infamous for. That’s how things were in the old-media world of the 1970s, only one cheapo book was published about the case and yesterday’s tabloid sensation quickly became tomorrow’s fish and chip paper.
She obviously picked the wrong decade (wrong century, actually) to kidnap a Mormon missionary and chain him to a bed. Today there are plenty of ways for a person to milk their Warholian fifteen minutes for all they’re worth and even people who don’t seem to actually do anything can become world-famous, so the sky should be the limit for a character like Joyce to turn her notoriety into money and celebrity: hire Max Clifford to keep her in the papers, a reality television show, a tell-all autobiography, her own line of fitness videos, make-up, shoes, perfume, and probably her own brand of fur-lined handcuffs to sell on QVC too.
I can’t remember how and when I found out how babies were made but I distinctly remember not knowing. When I was very young there was a rumour going around my Primary School that the older sister of a friend of mine was on something called “the Pill” and while I had no idea what “the Pill” was I gathered it was something a bit scandalous and to do with having a baby. So my innocent mind put 2 and 2 together and came up with 3: for a while I actually thought a girl got pregnant by taking a pill. But back then the thought of just kissing a girl scared me out of my short trousers – I’d run a mile when they started playing kiss chase – so God knows how I’d have reacted to the idea that grown ups did, you know, that.
While I knew nothing of the intimate details of love I did actually have my first official “girlfriend” at the age of 10, though to be honest she was the one who asked me out. Her name was Simone Palmley (Simone sounds so exotic now, but we pronounced it See-mon because we were a bit common), a girl at my school who I was told fancied me rotten and one day she came up to me in the playground and asked me out. Now Simone was a nice-looking girl who also happened to be famous among the boys at school for being rather, um….well-developed for her age (“Blimey, she’s got bigger ones than me!” my mum said after she met her), so you’d think my reply would have been “Phwooooaar yes!” but instead I think I turned bright red and was so tongue-tied I had to be bullied into saying yes by her mates.
But at that age girls are scary creatures, they mature faster than us boys and are into things like clothes and make-up and kissing (yuck!) while we’re still snotty oiks with pea shooters who’d rather be playing football. Simone was especially scary to a nervous Nellie like me, she looked so damn womanly, the dark-haired, curvy siren of the school playground who seemed 10 going on 26. I never knew what to do with myself (or her) when she was around, during that summer when we were officially “going out” (which mostly involved going swimming at the local baths together) I could barely work up the courage to hold her hand and think I only kissed her twice, both times a hurried peck on the lips. Is 10 too young for furtive gropings or snogging sessions on the back row of the pictures? It was for me, but kids these days are probably indulging in three-ways at that age.
A few years later I found out that quite a few others had gone where I feared to tread and my Simone had seemingly been out with half the boys in my year at Secondary School. Little was I to know then but this was to become the defining characteristic of my future experience with the ladies: kicking myself over golden opportunities missed because I was such a pathetic twerp and wistful thoughts of “if I knew then what I know now”.
The first X-film I ever saw at the pictures was “Midnight Express” which I managed to blag my way in to at the tender age of 16, two years before I was legally allowed to. That might not sound like much of an achievement but I was young-looking for my age (still am!) and had failed to get into X- and even AA-rated films before. I’d just started going to pubs by then and never had any problems being served but getting into an adult film seemed like a much more difficult proposition; a pint of lager was one thing but at an X-film there was sex, violence, nudity (lots and lots of that in the 70s, everyone got their kit off in films back then) and all sorts of mysterious grown-up stuff so attempting to bluff the old lady in the ticket booth of your local Odeon or ABC was as nerve-wracking as trying to buy a dirty magazine at the corner shop. And it almost always was an older person selling tickets at the pictures back then, not the spotty teens they have these days who would probably let a coach load of Boy Scouts in to see “I Spit On Your Grave.”
So it was with a huge sense of relief that I settled into my seat at the Odeon Kensington High Street knowing that I was in and no one was coming to chuck me out. Even more so because I’d gone to see it with the beautiful Jackie Bolton, the curly-haired temptress I had an unrequited schoolboy crush on. Though sadly it wasn’t a date, she was with a group of her mates and had asked me along as a “friend” — that dreaded word — but still, can you imagine the humiliation if I’d been turned away for being too young right in front of Jackie Bolton? I wouldn’t have been able to show my face in public ever again.
“Midnight Express” had plenty of the “grown-up stuff”: boobs, bums, masturbation, sadism, drugs, homo-eroticism, and lots of gory violence, though I was less shocked by all that as I was uncomfortable to be watching Brad Davis have a wank while I was sitting next to Jackie Bolton. I liked it a lot at the time but I think the older, more sophisticated me wouldn’t be as impressed, director Alan Parker and scriptwriter Oliver Stone both tend to be as subtle as a knee in the balls and I’ve feeling if I was to see it now I’d find it all a bit sensationalist and lurid — like a beautifully photographed exploitation flick.
The soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder still sounds great though and supposedly was the first electronic score to win an Oscar. We used to play the soundtrack album a lot when I was working at WH Smith and every time we did someone would ask us what it was and buy a copy (Jeff Wayne’s “War of The Worlds” opus had the same effect.) Apparently Alan Parker gave Moroder the job after hearing “I Feel Love” and the 8-minute “Chase” has a similar throbbing EuroDisco beat and is something of an early Techno classic (I think Daft Punk covered it at some point) while the main theme is slower and more squelchy, though I can’t ever hear those bouncing “boom-boom-boom” synth drums without thinking of “Ring My Bell”
When this record was a hit in the summer of 1983 I was deeply in love with my first serious girlfriend and it’s the perfect song for the blissful glow of first love, just the thing for putting on a mixtape for that special lady. So now you’d expect me to say that when I hear this the whole thing comes back to me in a Proustian rush of warm nostalgia, its summery innocence and tender heart invoking sweet memories of holding hands in the park, that hesitant first kiss, walking her home in the evenings, and those never-ending telephone conversations.
But the truth is the record that really reminds me of her is the first Orange Juice album but this is such a gorgeous, gorgeous track I almost want it to be the one that brings it all back, because if you weren’t in love in the summer of 1983 this would have made you want to be.
Have you ever had a mate you secretly thought was a bit of a twat who always seemed to do incredibly well with the opposite sex? In fact, the better he did the more you hated him because it just showed up how pathetic your own sex life was. He’d turn up at parties or the pub with some gorgeous bird in tow and you’d couldn’t understand why she couldn’t see how annoying he was. She seemed like a nice, intelligent girl but you’d start to think there must be something wrong with her if she liked him. Your female friends would assure you it wasn’t true that girls preferred going out with arseholes and liked nice guys really but the evidence you saw with your own eyes was that you were single while blokes you knew to be dickheads seemed to be beating them off with a stick.
This is such a terrific single it’s a real shame it wasn’t a hit. From The Specials great final album “In The Studio” which they released under their original name and sadly flopped too, I’m not sure it’s even available on CD these days.
Yes, I know Terence Stamp (pictured above in case you didn’t know) is a good-looking chap and probably a nice bloke to boot, but next to the un-Godly beauty of Jean Shrimpton anyone would look like a bit of a shifty meathead. The fact that he dated her makes me not sure whether I should admire the bastard or hate him.
Was there ever a social situation more stressful and ripe for humiliation and embarrassment than asking a girl to slow dance? Walking across that dancefloor to approach some young lady with the question often felt like climbing out of a trench in WWI and crossing No Man’s Land to face the enemy guns and certain death.
The “slowie” was a fixture at every club and disco (or “meat market” if you’d prefer) I went to in my teens where the music was secondary to getting off with the opposite sex. They always played a few at the end of the evening so you knew it was coming and had time to scout around for potential candidates and maybe try to impress her in advance with your dancefloor moves to the faster songs. You’d need a few pints of Dutch Courage before you could work up the nerve (but not too many, you didn’t want to fall all over the poor girl) and when the moment came you’d go up to her trying to act all nonchalant and pretend it was no skin off your nose if she did or not — one thing my more sexually-successful friends always told me was that girls hate a bloke who seems too keen. But of course I did care and if she turned me down I might ask someone else but more often than not I’d slink back to the bar for a lonely pint where I stood and enviously watched all the jammy bastards who’d managed to score.
But occasionally you got lucky and she’d say “yes” so you’d have the few minutes the record lasted (and maybe another one) to make the most of the opportunity. If things were going well and you were feeling brave (or just drunk) you’d let your hands slowly and gingerly make their way down her back until — if she raised no objection — they rested happily on her bottom. Most of the time it never went any further than that and when the record ended she’d say “thanks” and go back to her mates never to be seen again, but occasionally you’d get a phone number or even a snog out of it and go home with a satisfied smile on your face — even if you didn’t get your hands on her bum. No matter how depressingly unsuccessful you usually were, it was that possibility which kept you coming back weekend after weekend, ready to go through the same painful ritual all over again.
If I had to pick one slow record that was the definitive soundtrack to the British high street disco experience and that end-of-the-evening feeling when air was thick with the scent of Paco Rabanne, sweat, lager, Silk Cut and hormones, it would be this one.
Just hearing that clipped guitar intro I can see myself standing at the bar in some long-closed, chrome-and-carpet disco pub, everyone around me is busy coupling up and hitting the dancefloor while I’m still trying to summon up the nerve to make a move on some lucky girl.
But if Spandau aren’t your cup of tea these were always good for a smooch too. Lots of memories here, mostly frustrating ones.